From this essay (via The Island of Doubt):

Convictions are important things. We do not want our children to have minds so open that their brains fall out. On the other hand, certainty is conviction absent humility. Certainty is intolerant. It is absolute. It knows the answers and will not tolerate disagreement. It is inflexible, permanent and anti-intellectual….

It is the demagogues on both the left and the right who are more interested in advancing their private agendas than in explaining and understanding an entire situation or picture. Their perspective is often, “I know what I know; do not confuse me with the facts.”

And while the columnist makes the left/right dichotomy, of course this “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality is prevalent in other areas apart from the political spectrum as well. ID advocates and young earth creationists frequently espouse this type of thinking; you’ve seen it here in some of the conversations discussing HIV.

Certainty isn’t always a bad thing, of course; I’m certain my kids are mine, as the memory of their birth still remains pretty strong in my mind and they were never sent to a nursery to potentially be “switched” or something. I don’t think this makes me anti-intellectual. But when it comes to other areas, some amount of uncertainty is assumed. This doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up–in science and other areas, rather, we follow where the evidence leads, mindful that “proof” isn’t a concept that works in biology as it does in mathematics.

Comments

  1. #1 Zeno
    March 29, 2006

    I had many fruitless debates with a friendly acquaintance who was determined to convert everyone to his fundamentalist religious perspective. Sometimes I wondered if were truly as “open-minded” as I claimed to be, but eventually I decided that there were plenty of areas where open-mindedness would just be silly. I regarded many of the so-called debates about science to be nothing more than assaults from the faith community, not genuine scientific controversies. When it came to reports of cutting-edge research, I was perfectly happy to maintain the open mind of an interested outsider, as such issues fell into the area where I did not know enough to make judgments. My acquaintance’s domain of doubt, however, seemed to be much, much smaller. He was one of those people who know.

  2. #2 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    ID advocates and young earth creationists frequently espouse this type of thinking; you’ve seen it here in some of the conversations discussing HIV.

    The only certainty expressed in conversations discussing HIV are by those who are “certain” that HIV causes AIDS, but can’t cite literature supporting this, and cannot conceptualize what would falsify their belief.

    Of course, Dr. Smith, I exclude you from this group, since you have — to your great credit — expressed some degrees of skepticism about the prevailing viral hypothesis.

    Hank Barnes

  3. #3 Tara C. Smith
    March 29, 2006

    The only certainty expressed in conversations discussing HIV are by those who are “certain” that HIV causes AIDS,

    Hank, that’s untrue. Where did Harvey or Dean or others ever express even the remotest bit of skepticism of their own hypothesis? Indeed, many of them simply parrot Duesberg et al., including Brown’s parroting of Current Opinion in Immunology as an “obscure journal,” something which could be easily looked up. Are y’all ever uncritical of those on “your side?”

    And just to be clear for those who did not read the other threads–my skepticism on the HIV–>AIDS paradigm is as high as my skepticism of the mycobacterium–>TB or group A strep–>rheumatic fever paradigms. I think they are all immensely supported by the evidence, but as noted in the post above, it’s difficult to be “certain” about anything in biology. The weight of evidence is, however, pretty crushing (IMO).

  4. #4 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    Hank, that’s untrue. Where did Harvey or Dean or others ever express even the remotest bit of skepticism of their own hypothesis?

    Whoa, gal. So, you concede that the folks promoting the HIV hypothesis express the “sometimes-ugly face” of certainty, but Harvey and Dean do it, too?

    So, we’re all “too certain” — is that your point? I can accept that charge and try to do better — can you and your allies?

    I can’t speak for Harvey and Dean, but, most likely, like me, they all started out believing that HIV caused AIDS, because that was the government position (NIH, FDA, NAS, CDC, WHO) abruptly adopted in 1984, after Gallo’s fraudulent press conference with Reagan’s Secretary of Health & Human Services — this fanatical right-wing dingbat, named Margaret Heckler.

    Everyone was hopeful that, Yes, we found the cause, so, Yes, we would find a cure.

    But, it just didn’t turn out so good. And, once the scientific locomotive leaves the station, it’s damn hard to slow it down, and reverse course. See Thomas Kuhn, if you don’t believe me.

    Myself, I’m skeptical whether Duesberg is right on the significance of the presence of HIV antibodies (assuming they’re specific to HIV), ie, whether they show good health (fully formed immunity) or whether they indicate bad health (something causing overstimulation of the immune system).

    However, I’m infinitely more skeptical of the HIV hypothesis, because it is ridiculous for the many reasons expressed before.

    You oughta be able to extract infectious HIV from an AIDS patient and culture thousands of infectious particles, without all these laboratory artifacts — and the experts to date, are unable to do this.

    Hank Barnes

  5. #5 Tara C. Smith
    March 29, 2006

    Whoa, gal. So, you concede that the folks promoting the HIV hypothesis express the “sometimes-ugly face” of certainty, but Harvey and Dean do it, too?

    Well, not quite. But sure, it happens on both sides of any issue.

    So, we’re all “too certain” — is that your point? I can accept that charge and try to do better — can you and your allies?

    Again, that’s not quite my point–rather, that a balance is necessary between the “so open-minded your brain falls out” and “I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts.”

    However, I’m infinitely more skeptical of the HIV hypothesis, because it is ridiculous for the many reasons expressed before.

    And those discussions remain open, so you’re welcome to go back to those and ask for more information on any questions you have that remain unaddressed.

  6. #6 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    Again, that’s not quite my point–rather, that a balance is necessary between the “so open-minded your brain falls out” and “I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts.”

    Nobody disagrees with this. It is obvious.

    The direct question is, Do you think the promoters of the HIV hypothesis too often express “the sometimes-ugly face of certainty”?

    If Yes, then you are a good scientist.

    If No, then your post actually means, I am certain about my viewpoints, but I can’t stand it when my opponents (ID, Duesberg et al) are certain about theirs.

    The classic double-standard.

    I think they are all immensely supported by the evidence, but as noted in the post above, it’s difficult to be “certain” about anything in biology. The weight of evidence is, however, pretty crushing (IMO).

    “Certainty” isn’t the standard. I’m curious as to what evidence you weighed on the other side of the scales.

    HB

  7. #7 Tara C. Smith
    March 29, 2006

    Nobody disagrees with this. It is obvious.

    No, it’s not obvious, and people *do* disagree with it. If you’re never met people that espouse the “I’m convinced; don’t bother me with the facts” mentality, consider yourself lucky.

    The direct question is, Do you think the promoters of the HIV hypothesis too often express “the sometimes-ugly face of certainty”?

    Sure. I don’t think any group is immune to it. Do you think some of your crowd do as well?

    “Certainty” isn’t the standard. I’m curious as to what evidence you weighed on the other side of the scales.

    I’ve spent way too much time on the virusmyth and other similar sites, and have even paid money for Duesberg’s, Maggiore’s, Bethell’s, etc. books. Supposedly these are the best arguments put forth against the HIV–>AIDS paradigm, and they’re terrible, as I’ve addressed in several posts. Again, if you want to discuss this, there are other posts still awaiting your attention, I do believe. The nitty-gritty of HIV/AIDS has enough posts–it doesn’t need to hijack this one as well.

  8. #8 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    The direct question is, Do you think the promoters of the HIV hypothesis too often express “the sometimes-ugly face of certainty”?

    Sure. I don’t think any group is immune to it.

    Ok, that’s cool. I can live with that.

    Do you think some of your crowd do as well?

    I don’t have a crowd, but Yes. However, much less than the promoters of the HIV paradigm.

    I’ve spent way too much time on the virusmyth and other similar sites, and have even paid money for Duesberg’s, Maggiore’s, Bethell’s, etc. books. Supposedly these are the best arguments put forth against the HIV–>AIDS paradigm, and they’re terrible,…

    Well, you should be reading Duesberg’s peer-reviewed published literature. He’s the scientist of the 3.

    Hank Barnes

  9. #9 Tara C. Smith
    March 29, 2006

    I don’t have a crowd, but Yes. However, much less than the promoters of the HIV paradigm.

    Um, doesn’t that then show that you *do* have a crowd?

    Well, you should be reading Duesberg’s peer-reviewed published literature. He’s the scientist of the 3.

    Hank, one of the books I’m referring to is a collection of Duesberg’s published papers, and yes, I’ve read many more of them as well. As I’ve mentioned before when you questioned me on this, you can believe what you want to about my familiarity with the AIDS denial literature–whatever makes ya feel better.

  10. #10 Scott Belyea
    March 29, 2006

    Light relief …

    I’m certain my kids are mine, as the memory of their birth still remains pretty strong in my mind and they were never sent to a nursery to potentially be “switched” or something.

    Bit from an old sitcom seen in an airport bar (Dick Van Dyke, maybe?).

    Husband misinterpreting things and becoming convinced that their child was switched in the hospital nursery.

    Wife – “I know my baby!”

    Husband – “Evidence shows that 1 out of 100 women has the wrong baby.”

    Wife – “That’s a neat trick … how does she do it??”

  11. #11 Flint
    March 29, 2006

    Why does the HIV->AIDS hypothesis generate so much heat? If this is as well-attested as any competing hypothesis about the cause of AIDS, why not just treat it as such? Is there something about testing this relationshp that forecloses on testing other possibilities as well?

    I should think our goal is to prevent and/or cure AIDS, wherever it comes from. What do we get by denying ANY plausible proposals that have not been ruled out?

  12. #12 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    …my familiarity with the AIDS denial

    I thought we were past the “denial” stuff.

    one of the books I’m referring to is a collection of Duesberg’s published papers, and yes, I’ve read many more of them as well

    Well, then you should be more clear. If you’ve read Duesberg’s papers, then good for you. There are a lot to choose from.

    You should focus on the 1987 Cancer Research paper.

    Hank Barnes

  13. #13 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    Flint wrote:

    “Why does the HIV->AIDS hypothesis generate so much heat?”

    The answer, I think, is that many people claim that they have been harmed (or had friends killed) by the drugs used to treat AIDS. Also, the politics and big $$ have, in my view, obscured and distorted the science.

    This gay magazine, Poz discusses the recent article by Celia Farber in Harpers. You can see some of the anguish expressed by folks on both sides of the equation. It ain’t scientific, but it is highly informative.

    Hank Barnes

  14. #14 Richard
    March 29, 2006

    Hank, Chris Noble has read both Duesberg’s papers and the papers that Duesberg erroneously cites as supporting his claims. I have yet to see you address any of the errors, deliberately misleading statements and misrepresentation of cites contained in Duesberg’s papers that Chris has identified (like defining salmonella as an OI to create “HIV negative AIDS” cases to take but one example). Instead, your tactic seems to be to hijack a new thread, bring up stuff that has already been addressed on other threads and hope that no one notices. This does not bespeak a sincere desire to work from the facts, I’m afraid.

  15. #15 Dale
    March 29, 2006

    Hank,
    Why focus on the 1987 Cancer Research paper rather than the more recent 2003 J. Biosciences paper? Surely the latter is more reflective of Dr. Duesberg’s current thinking on the subject of HIV and AIDS?

  16. #16 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    Dale,

    Either one is fine, but the 1987 paper occurred before the “forced” consensus emerged.

    Richard,

    With all due respect, in the interest of civility (on this blog), it would be best, if you and I parted ways.

    HB

  17. #17 Richard
    March 29, 2006

    Why is that Hank? Have I been uncivil? Since you’re in a position where you’re arguing that the scientific consensus is “ridiculous,” it seems appropriate to ask you to respond to the posts that have – in excruciating detail – pointed out how and why you (and the sources you cite such as Peter Duesberg) are wrong. Otherwise all you’re doing is finding fresh spots to rewrite the same misinformation that has been addressed on other threads. This is very different from debating the issue at hand, surely.

  18. #18 Dale
    March 29, 2006

    Hank,
    Well personally I’ve read the J. Biosci paper and was very disappointed to find that Duesberg not only ignored the majority of data published after the early 90s but misrepresented the data in a significant fraction* of the papers he does cite. The former might be justifiable but the latter is inexcusable.

    * I checked 15 -20 random citations and found the majority were misrepresented in one way or another.

  19. #19 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    Dale,

    Well, you’re a scientist, right? So, write a letter to the paper, and identify the errors and let us know what they are.

    You sound like Joe McCarthy — “I have a list of 67 or 43 names of communists…..”

    What are they?

    Better yet, why not first share with us the parts with which you agree?

    Hank B

  20. #20 Dale
    March 29, 2006

    Hank, the point was that I’m not going to base my acceptance or rejection of any hypothesis on someone’s interpretation of original data without first checking whether their interpretation of that data is reasonable. Critically evaluate the data, isn’t that the correct procedure? I posted a couple of examples of Duesberg’s misrepresentations in J. Biosci. on Dean’s blog. Chris Noble has posted many more examples in various places. Even Harvey posted an example once (although admittedly that wasn’t his intention). I don’t expect any one to believe it on my say so. Go to the paper itself and check it out for yourself.

  21. #21 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    Dale,

    Unusually weak.

    I’ve read the paper several times. It’s long. It’s comprehensive. It has, what, 300 or so internal references?

    A quick summary:

    1. HB: Tara, go read Duesberg’s 1987 paper
    2. Dale: HB, why not Duesberg’s 2003 paper?
    3. HB: Either one is fine, the earlier is less controversial.
    4. Dale: I found unspecified errors in Duesberg’s 2003 paper
    5. HB: What are they? Didya write to the journal?
    6. Dale: I posted them elsewhere

    Typical derailment of the discussion, typical degradation of thought and logic by the usual suspects.

    Hank Barnes

  22. #22 Dale
    March 29, 2006

    Hank,
    You said that Duesberg should be read with a skeptical but unprejudiced mind. My response was to say I did that but found Duesberg’s interpretations of the literature to be flawed. So as not to prejudice others, I said not to take my word for it but check it out for yourself. Read the paper and check random references to see whether what they say can reasonably be interpreted in the manner in which Duesberg interpretes them. In other words, perform a critical and skeptical evaluation of the data which is what you claim to want us all to do anyway. How can that be a derailment of a discussion or a degradation of thought and logic?

  23. #23 Hank Barnes
    March 29, 2006

    You said that Duesberg should be read with a skeptical but unprejudiced mind.

    True. And you apparently agree.

    My response was to say I did that but found Duesberg’s interpretations of the literature to be flawed.

    Why do I doubt this? Hmm. Lemme think. Well, did you see the multitude of cited papers in the literature that show that drug use causes immune dysfunction, and that some drugs, namely poppers, potentially cause T-Cell depletion?

    See Goedert paper

    Quote from abstract:

    The data suggest that nitrites may be immunosuppressive in the setting of repeated viral antigenic stimulation and may contribute to the high frequency of DS and opportunistic infections in homosexual men.

    Does this or does this not tend to support Duesberg’s hypothesis?

    If, Yes, then we can continue the discussion.

    If No, well, then, Dale, you ain’t honestly debating.

    If something else, you are evading the question.

    Hank

  24. #24 Dale
    March 29, 2006

    Hank I note first that the study you cite was very small (consisting of 2 patients with KS plus 15 other homosexual men) and that 2 years later Goedert published another paper in which he concluded that nitrite use doesn’t always correlate with a low CD4:CD8 ratio.

    Recreational drugs: relationship to AIDS. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1984;437:192-9.

    Current data suggest that a transmissible agent causes AIDS, but undefined cofactors may also play a role. This paper reviews published data on the relationship between recreational drugs and immune alterations, with particular emphasis on nitrite inhalant (NI) use by homosexual men. In our original cohort of 15 homosexual men, helper:suppressor (H:S) T-cell ratios are stable, but persistently lower in the NI users. A recent analysis of 245 homosexual men shows that NI use is associated with low H:S ratios in homosexual men in Washington, D.C., but not in New York. Although NI use could increase the risk of AIDS by direct or indirect effects, it could also be a surrogate for a lifestyle practice that predisposes homosexual men to the putative AIDS agent. The current evidence concerning use of NI and the risk of AIDS is inconclusive, as is true for two other recreational drugs, heroin and cocaine. Future studies may not be able to dissect the complex interrelationships of drug use and other variables until precise laboratory tests are available for defining exposure to the putative AIDS agent and suspect cofactors.

  25. #25 Zach
    March 30, 2006

    Quoted from Hank Barnes, “You oughta be able to extract infectious HIV from an AIDS patient and culture thousands of infectious particles, without all these laboratory artifacts — and the experts to date, are unable to do this.”

    One of the most difficult things in science is culturing something in a lab setting, ie in vitro, and getting the same results that are seen in real life, ie in vivo. It doesn’t surprise me that scientists have yet to culture HIV particles in a lab setting that is accurate to what occurs in the human body.

  26. #26 Tara C. Smith
    March 30, 2006

    Typical derailment of the discussion, typical degradation of thought and logic by the usual suspects.

    Indeed. Hank, didn’t I ask you already to take the HIV stuff elsewhere, into one of the half-dozen or so threads already ON the topic? Must you derail every single thread that has even a cursory mention of HIV?

  27. #27 wheatdogg
    March 30, 2006

    An old physics joke:
    A cop pulls over Werner Heisenberg (who developed the Principle of Uncertainty) for speeding.
    Cop: Do you know how fast you were going, sir?
    WH: No, but I’m pretty sure I know where I am.

    As for myself, I am pretty sure that Hank will hijack just about any thread to bring it around to the HIV/AIDS “debate.” Frankly, I was looking forward to reading insightful comments about Tara’s post, which interests me a lot more than slogging through another round of foo about the HIV/AIDS connection. Been there, done that. Time to move on.

  28. #28 Chris Noble
    March 30, 2006

    Hank wrote:
    The only certainty expressed in conversations discussing HIV are by those who are “certain” that HIV causes AIDS, but can’t cite literature supporting this, and cannot conceptualize what would falsify their belief.

    The words:
    Then he showed it to me and–as he had done with all the others–he challenged me: “So. If this is true, can HIV be the cause of the AIDS epidemic?”
    I had no answer at first. Then I said, simply: “No. No it cannot.”
    Just as I know that when Monty asks if you want to switch doors you should switch, I know that HIV cannot be the proximate cause of the AIDS epidemic.
    Mark my words: this story is going to blow wide open sooner or later. My gut says that by the end of this year, no one will be talking about AIDS the same way again. It’s not going to be pretty. There’s going to be screaming and yelling and finger pointing and denial. Congress may even get involved.
    But HIV cannot be the cause of the AIDS epidemic.
    Tomorrow, Dr. Bialy will show you why.

    show a great deal of certainty.

    Duesberg too does not flinch from expressing his beliefs with great certainty. He says that retroviruses like HIV cannot cause AIDS. This is despite other retroviruses like SIV demonstrably causing CD4 cell depletion and AIDS in primates.

    I also gave one example of how the HIV theory of AIDS could be falsified. If you can demonstrate that HIV is an endogenous retrovirus then this would indeed falsify the idea that HIV is an infectious exogenous virus that causes AIDS. You indicated that you could demonstrate this but have failed to do so. When you had your chance you chickened out.

    One characteristic of “rethinkers” that I have noted is that they try to reframe the “debate” so that everybody else has to “prove” something to them. They assume the position of the ultimate adjudicator and then when they are presented with evidence they just regurgitate well-worn mantras such as “that’s not proof” or “that’s not an electron-micrograph of isolated HIV”.

    But that’s not the way that science works. Hank Barnes is not the arbitrator of what is and what isn’t science. For that matter neither is Peter Duesberg. To be taken seriously you have to present an alternative theory that explains the existing data better than HIV. Duesberg was himself forced to do this. In the beginning Duesberg simply stated that HIV cannot cause AIDS. He conducted an entirely negative campaign much like IDists and evolution. Eventually he was forced to come up with an alternative hypothesis and thus the drug/foreign protein/malnutrition/etc. theory was born.

    At least Duesberg attempted to come up with an alternative hypothesis. “Rethinkers” like Hank Barnes choose to take the easy option and present no ideas of their own. Instead they just mock and deride “orthodox” scientists and anyone that happens to believe that the balance of evidence supports the idea that HIV exists as an exogenous retrovirus and plays a causal role in AIDS by cuasing the depletion of CD4 cells.

  29. #29 Mike Z
    March 31, 2006

    Other places we see the bad side of certainty, where facts are not acknowledged:
    1) National Rifle Association: Everyone knows that keeping a loaded pistol under one’s pillow is more likely to help protect one’s property from intruders than to end up killing one’s own children.
    2) Climate change (though the science seems to finally be winning out on this one).
    3) U.S. penal system: The best way to cut down on crime is to throw as many people into prison as possible for as long as possible and to make the prisons as harsh as possible. And capitol punishment is a good deterrent.
    4) Just about everything coming from the Bush administration. Cheney actually said recently that the bullshit he has spewed about the Iraq fiasco (greeted as liberators, insurgency in its last throes, etc.) were “accurate and reflected reality.” [Sorry for the lack of link--I saw it on the Daily Show.]

  30. #30 Mike Z
    April 4, 2006

    Another we are seeing these days:
    5) Immigrants are damaging the U.S. Nevermind all the data that shows this is not the case. (I hate election years.)

  31. #31 Spike
    April 4, 2006

    I don’t know what happened to my original post, but I’m going to try again:

    Mike Z, You may be on target regarding items 2-5, but you invented #1 completely.

    Please check the NRA’s own web pages for their safety programs for children and adults:

    http://www.nrahq.org/safety/eddie/infoparents.asp

    http://nrahq.org/education/

    You sound like an ID proponent when you pull stuff out of yourear.